WESLACO — He was way behind the next man in line as the Bobcats made their weary but joyous way past the fan-congratulation phalanx. But the red-and-blue horde didn’t mind that Aaron Sifuentes was lagging a little. It’s hard to walk too fast when you’re on crutches.

The gutty senior limped his way through it, and though he could not slap palms with the crowd members reaching over the railing at Bobby Lackey Stadium, he nonetheless received a hero’s welcome.

“Nice touchdown!” crowed one rooter. “Nice game, A.C.!” yelled another. A third piped up with, “You’re awesome, man!!” and all Sifuentes could do was nod. Earlier in the evening he’d gone down with a knee injury, spending most of the second half shedding quiet tears of frustration while propped up on the dreaded injury table that no player wants to visit.

But he’d done the job, and as a result, Edinburg was able to grind out a much-needed 18-6 win over Weslaco here Friday, making its record 1-2 heading into the District 31-5A opener this Friday against P-SJ-A Memorial.

With the score tied at 6 as the first half closed, Weslaco driving, the lean safety had ranged to his right, ballhawking a pass from Panther quarterback Nathan Alvarado. He snared it at his own 15 and saw what every defender wants to gaze upon in such a situation: open sailing ahead. Time expired on the magnificent individual stroke.

The 85-yard interception return for six gave the Bobcats a super big play on a night where they needed something, anything, to put to rest the lingering doubts about their chances in 2009. After having blown one game to McAllen High at the end and then given up a 14-point lead in a 5-point loss to Sharyland, EHS was desperately determined to come up with some magic of its own. And Sifuentes obliged.

“I knew I had to figure out something to get the job done,” said the senior DB, who has six tackles to go with his game-changing pick-six. “I was just able to step in front and go all the way.”

As for the knee, Sifuentes does not yet know the severity of the problem.

“I just heard a pop, to tell you the truth I don’t really know what to expect now,” he admitted. “But I plan on coming back as soon as I can, I got chopped from behind on the play.”

GETTING THE

BEST OF THE

TURNOVER BATTLE

Prior to Friday, they thought they could easily be 2-0 rather than 0-2, did the Bobcats, and a strong case can be made for the veracity of that statement.

In taking out Weslaco (1-2) with 7,000 purple-clad fanatics nestled snugly on the home side of the newly refurbished Lackey Stadium, the visitor manned up when the chips were down, dominating the line of scrimmage on offense and putting the kibosh on the Panthers’ high-octane Slot-T attack, allowing just 212 total yards to a unit averaging 432 yards a night, third in the Valley.

They also reversed a disturbing trend toward key mistakes and turnovers. Playing a nearly flawless ball game, the Bobcats took three away from the Panthers, and none was more vital than a fumble recovery by junior end Felipe Pena at his own 7 in the second half.

After Weslaco drove 17 plays from its 10 to inside the ‘Cat 10, the awesome linebacker duo of David Guevara and Ciro Reyna hammered the runner on third down, with Pena falling on the loose pill at 6:32. The march had consumed the entire third period, and in fact, the last two quarters consisted of just four total possessions, two by each team in a classic ball-control game that ran way fast, clock-wise.

That clutch takeaway set the club up for a 93-yard journey, accomplished in 18 plays, as tackle Eli Eyzaguirre and Co. up front pushed around a tired and smaller Panther line to clinch the victory.

Sophomore Deandric Maxwell carried 8 times for 41 yards on the possession, as Edinburg had already lost fullback Freddy Guajardo to injury (Jaime Sauceda would follow him to the side later with a shoulder problem). Hitting the hole with abandon and crunching through the first hit, Maxwell led the Bobcats toward the end zone as the fourth quarter dawned.

Soon, Isaac Escobar (11 of 18 in a solid performance) left the fray after being shaken up on a keeper. It was 3rd and 9 at the Weslaco 43 when “Blue Eyes” entered the contest, and made his mark right off the bat.

Junior Stevie Guerrero replaced Escobar behind center and on his first snap, rolled left, out of trouble after a near sack. Racing toward the sideline, the cool Guerrero appeared to hesitate for a blink, but what he was doing was sneaking a peak at the down marker to his left. Instead of going out of bounds, Guerrero put his head down and laced through a tackle, completing a crucial 10-yard scamper for the biggest first down of the young season for Edinburg.

Later, the ‘Cats were the beneficiaries of an exciting confluence of luck and skill as Sauceda burst 12 yards to the 1, only to lose the ball in traffic. The man on the spot was senior Josh Mariscal, who beat teammate Manny Menchaca to the prize in the end zone. At 8:32, it was 18-6, ‘Cats, game in hand.

Newcomer junior Brandon Anzaldua made an enormous stuff on a runner during Weslaco’s last try, and he was joined by classmate Rogelio Ortiz, who penetrated in an instant to haul down John Rojas (game-high 107 yards, including a 41-yard TD in the second period) in the backfield on a 4th-down attempt.

Afterward, Edinburg coach Joey Caceres was fired up, and why not? He lauded his team for being in superb condition and praised Sifuentes, as did all the ‘Cats, for his valiant effort.

“This time we didn’t make any mistakes, we took turnovers,” he stressed. “It happened to us last week, and this time we turned it around on them. The defense came to play tonight, and we pounded the ball all game long…that’s Bobcat football!”

FLASHBACK SETS THE SCENE

It was not quite a textbook beginning for two teams searching for a victory as the non-district slate came to a close. Each team punted twice to start things, with the defenses in charge. Guevara, who made 12 tackles, and Reyna (14) were as usual impossible to block, and quickly asserted themselves against the tricky Panther offense, which had scored 72 points in two previous games. Outside of 73 yards on two Rojas jaunts, Weslaco did very little against the much-improved ‘Cat D, which has now given up just 254 yards per game in three skirmishes.

Edinburg got the first muster started, as Escobar fired a beautiful strike down the middle to a streaking Menchaca (four catches for 68 yards in his best action of the season) for a 41-yard gain. Later, Guajardo bolted for a 15-yard score at 9:54 of the second, on a 3rd-and-6 play.

The Panthers, after three punts, were intercepted by promising soph Sal Martinez on their fourth try. But on their next possession, Rojas raced into the end zone from 41 yards out, tying things at 6 with just over 5 minutes remaining.

EHS had a chance at the end, but Escobar was picked after leading his team to the Weslaco 41. Escobar saved the TD return with a tackle of Omar Pena at the ‘Cat 33, and two plays later it was off to the races for Sifuentes, as Edinburg dodged a bullet and engineered what amounted to at least a 13-point swing.

After surviving that deep penetration to their 7 to start the third, the ‘Cats methodically drove the length of the field behind Eyzaguirre, three-year starter Ryne Bazan at center, and the rest of the large-and-in-charge line.

“That’s right, we just dominated up front,” said the 265-pound Eyzaguirre, who added that despite the injury trouble at running back, the bulls were going to open some holes no matter who was toting the ball. “This is a very important win for us, and hopefully it will carry over for some momentum as we start district.”

EHS AT WESLACO

EHS(1-2) 0 12 0 6 - 18

WESL (1-2) 0 6 0 0 - 6

SCORING

E: Freddy Guajardo 15 run (kick failed) 9:54

W: John Rojas 41 run (kick blocked) 4:58

E: Aaron Sifuentes 85 interception return (pass failed) 0:00

E: Josh Mariscal fumble recovery in end zone (run failed) 8:32

STATS

EHS: FD 18; RUSH 178; PASS 129; TOTAL 307; TO 1

RUSH: Deandric Maxwell 15-67; Jaime Sauceda 9-44; Guajardo 5-30; Stevie Guerrero 2-24; Mariscal 3-11; Isaac Escobar 4-2

PASS: Escobar 11-18-1 110; Guerrero 1-1-0 19

RECEIVING: Manny Menchaca 4-68; Steve Trevino 6-39; Mariscal 2-22

TACKLES: Ciro Reyna 14; David Guevara 12; Rogelio Ortiz 7; Sifuentes 6; Sal Martinez 5; Bryan Garza 5; Joe Fuentes 5/FUM RECOV: Felipe Pena; INTERCEPTIONS: Martinez, Sifuentes

WESLACO: FD 12; RUSH 30-212; PASS 0-2-2